Aviation’s 120th Birthday – Disecting and digesting air-laws

Global aviation is 117 years: salutation to the Wright brothers and fellow ‘daredevils’
Capt. Victor Kwesi AMOAH

Captain Victor Kwesi Amoah, an airline captain and motivator, highlights another episode of aviation history in an exclusive interview with B&FT.

When did we as passengers and the non-travelling public feel the existence of air-laws?

In order to get the insight of how passengers began to see regulations, it is refreshing to know how they began during the development of commercial aviation. Passengers who travelled in those days and those who travelled after the 1930s, 1940s and1950s were the ones who might have seen the difference and appreciated how regulations impacted their flight. The euphoria of flying passengers from A to B for revenue had just caught on, and while I must admit it became a breakthrough business for some (if not many), some begging questions were not addressed to ensure the seamless transition from aero-daredevilling events to safe and economic air travel.

In those times, when the aero daredevils were doing their exploits, they were doing them in certain remote areas. All those events were racing. So, those parks or aerodromes were designed like athletic fields where aircraft took off and flew in the air – gauging tracks on the field while records of timing and distance were documented.

Periodically, public displays were organised to demonstrate the ‘prowess’ of the invented device with respect to maneuverability, speed, altitude records as well as distance – or how long a device could fly so many times around the racing park. With World War One (WW1) approaching its twilight stages, the aero-daredevil activities and public displays began to phase out – giving way for aviation enthusiasts of the day to convert most of those air racing grounds to airports.

We still have public airshows in many parts of the world today. Some of the popular ones are the Dubai Air Show (UAE) and Farnborough Air Show in the UK.

It will be recalled from my previous features that those air-racing parks were popularly known as Aero Dromos (Greek meaning for air races) or Aero Dromus (Latin meaning for the same). The Brits referred to that same park as an Aerodrome. When commercial aviation began, those parks were then areas for aircraft taking off and landing – as well as building hangar areas for aircraft maintenance, refuelling, spares shops and other ancillary services. It was then that air-cargo, and air-mail operators decided to use those fields for their business.

Salient questions that arose as commercial aviation was in its infantry stages were: how safe is the aircraft that I am to fly in? How competent are the pilots and all support crew? What do I do when I arrive at the airport to begin my travel? In the air, how safe am I as far as flying with other aircraft in that space is concerned? How safe are the airports, what weather conditions are good to fly in and where are the lines drawn to operate, delay or cancel a service?

Other issues also arose. How many times does an aircraft in one country fly to another, and how many times should that same country allow others to fly to theirs? How fit are the air crew? Issues of the above were addressed in bits and pieces of local laws, made and ratified in the country concerned as and when – but the Chicago convention of November 1944 saw the coming together of aviation and legal experts from 52 countries to discuss a uniform manner of addressing the civil aviation matters.

All their solutions were officially implemented on 7th December that same year, and it was then that the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a unit under the United Nations, was birthed. It was first agreed that all member-states should have their national civil aviation authority to provide regulatory oversight of Aviation Training Organisations, airlines, maintenance and repair organisations, air traffic services and other related businesses – all to be overseen by their mother-body, which was the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Through the ICAO, passengers and non-travelling public can feel the regulations that govern safety and aviation business. All their discussions for ratification were compartmentalised in a series of annexes to address certain issues to their full detail. For instance, all member-countries agreed on how pilots and other aircrew were to be trained, licenced and kept current; and how the licences could be suspended or revoked. It was incorporated in ICAO Annex 1. How aircraft were to be airworthy through various programmes of inspections, repairs and documentation and release to service can be found in ICAO ANNEX 8. In flight, who has the right of way when aircraft are found to be approaching either head-on or at right-angles?

ICAO Annex 2 has voluminously stated how its member-states should comply with rules of the air. With the various annexes being complied with all over the world, passengers are now experiencing safety in the skies.

For the sake of space and time, I will not delve into all 16 ICAO annexes as of then that were ratified by the 52 member states (19 Annexes as of now). Today, we have over 200 member-states of ICAO.

Wow! That’s very insightful!! Bless our pioneering Aviators!!!

How do Airlines do their Business Internationally?

It is quite refreshing to know that the streamlining of business activities between nations was not left out. As the above safety issues were discussed during the November 1944 Chicago Convention, another chamber of the same conference had representatives from the same 52 nations discuss the amicable operation of aircraft for profit’s sake.

Nine freedoms of the air were discussed and ratified. Each nation agreed to issue rights to other nations who overflew their territory; and it was detailed succinctly in the First Freedom as to each nation’ obligations and procedures toward one another. The right to overfly another nation for non-revenue purposes – such as to refuel for onward journey, aircraft repairs, passenger inflight health emergency issues – were also encased in the Second Freedom. Other freedoms – flying passengers from home to foreign nations, making transit stops and other services – were discussed in Freedoms 3 upward. More on the annexe and freedoms in future articles.

Regulations with time became more flexible, leading to de-regulation when the USA in 1978 pioneered the outsourcing of aviation business to private competition – provided they met the safety criteria. Canada followed suit in 1985, and the European Union in 1990. That easing of regulations further led to bilateral agreements and eventually the Open Skies agreement among states.

In summary, the above events have contributed immensely to our safe and business-friendly skies – thanks to all those who sacrificed time, energy and financial resources to make our world of flying so convenient, not to speak of aviations’ immense contribution to national economies through massive employment, broadening the tax base and by extension improving living standards.

Let’s digest more air-laws and their impacts in my next feature. Adieu!

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